From maths to economics: David Gruen
Science graduate turned leading economist David Gruen laughs as he says he is vicariously indulging his passion for science through his son, who will be attending a Physics Olympiad at Monash.
Gruen, executive director of the Australian Treasury’s macroeconomic group since 2008, is one of Australia’s most highly-regarded experts on economic trends and has been a key influence in policy decisions in the wake of the global financial crisis and commodity boom.
Gruen only switched to economics at the age of 29 after completing an honours degree in theoretical physics.
He says although he came to his chosen career somewhat late, studying science improved his critical thinking.
“The most useful thing I learned in science wasn’t the specific knowledge, but rather the style of thinking and a focus on precision. Those skills are easily transferrable.”
With his son soon to begin tertiary study, Gruen believes that universities must generate critical thought and spark passion in their students.
“Teaching people how to think is important. When we employ people [at the Treasury], I often say that we’re looking for signs of life,” he says.
“We want to know that you haven’t just sat there passively. You need to be able to engage with the subject matter.”
While he no longer uses physics or chemistry in his day-to-day work, Gruen regularly draws on his understanding of the scientific method.
His father, the late Fred Gruen, was a well-known Professor in Agricultural Economics at Monash University. However, Gruen says he was never under pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I enjoyed science at school, so studying it at university seemed like the obvious choice.”
Gruen then spent four years living on campus at Farrer Hall, where he found university life and study enjoyable.
Gruen says his decision to switch to economics was ultimately influenced by his father. “I realised that he seemed to have a more interesting life than many other people, and that economics was something I would like to do.”
His advice is to study what you enjoy.
Gruen has recently been asked to sit on an advisory board for Monash University’s physics department, and says he looks forward to the opportunity.